Sprawl of the Wild

The great riparian land rush of northern Minnesota

| August 11, 2005

Suburban sprawl isn't a new phenomenon, but it's still one that gets residents of the countryside, and even some city folks, all riled up. Minnesota's North Woods are facing sprawl in a big way, Mike Mosedale writes in City Pages. A coveted lakefront cabin comes with a hefty price tag but not as much peace and quiet as it used to. Large 'cabins' with clean-cut lawns and private sand beaches have all but replaced small, countryside getaways and mom-and-pop lakeside resorts.

Rural resident Barry Babcock has termed the leisure boom driving this uninhibited sprawl the 'recreational-industrial complex.' The most popular counties in Minnesota for vacationing have experienced massive population influxes in the past 15 years. Schools of speedboats and expensive watercraft cruise the lakes, and ATVs buzz through the woods.

The growth has taken its toll on local economies. Large corporate chains like Wal-Mart and Taco Bell are arriving in North Woods towns in droves. Rising land prices and the booming real estate market are forcing family-run resorts to close their doors. Local businesses that cater to the seasonal tourist market are encountering hardship because many residents of the new lakeside cabins are choosing to stay year-round.

The environment is taking a hit as well. As prime lakefront property becomes scarce, new residents are buying up marshy land and filling it in to build houses and private beaches. Wetland flora such as cattails and bulrushes that serve as nurseries for aquatic species are in decline. ATV riders who take their vehicles off trails and into marshes are scarring the landscape, with parks unable to adequately regulate and enforce ATV use, according to Babcock.

It all adds up to a bleak outlook for a treasured area. As Mosedale writes: 'Minnesota cabin culture has not taken its final breath, but it's thrashing in its last throes. The lake country grows more crowded each year as it is hurtles toward its seeming destiny as the Hamptons of the upper Midwest.'
-- Rose Miller

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